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“Third. It further avers that as the publisher of a newspaper it has considered it proper in the public interest to comment upon such opinions of the Court as might be expected to be interesting or instructive to its readers. In so doing it has always endeavored to state the opinions of the Court with accuracy, and in every way to manifest and inculcate respect for such opinions; and it respectfully submits that an unintentional error, made in the course of such comment, and in the absence of any indication of a purpose to reflect upon the court, or to criticise its opinion unfavorably, does not constitute an offense against the dignity of the Court, or such an interference with or embarrassment of the administration of justice as to make the respondent liable to punishment for contempt.
"Fourth. If the Court shall determine, after consideration of the foregoing, and such further information as it may require 492 to be produced before it, that the respondent is guilty of contempt, the respondent protesting that such contempt was wholly unintentional on its part, prays that it may be permitted to purge itself thereof, and to that end submits itself such order as to your Honors shall seem meet. (Seal of Providence Journal Co.) "PROVIDENCE JOURNAL COMPANY,
"By Its Attorneys, "EDWARDS & ANGELL,
“WALTER F. ANGELL." It appeared further from admission of counsel that the writer of the article had before him a correct copy of the opinion of the court in which the decision was stated.
The case is one of particularly flagrant carelessness in the discharge of an assumed public duty which very intimately affects the administration of justice. A newspaper has the same right to publish the truth, without malice, that is guaranteed to every citizen. It has no more warrant to publish falsehood.
The administration of justice by our courts is before the face of the people. The sessions of the courts are open to the public, and it is proper that their decisions should be known to all. To this end, in all cases of general interest, the decisions of the courts, with the reasons therefor, are delivered in writing so that they may be disseminated, and appropriations are made for printing and preserving them for future reference in similar cases.
A skilled lawyer is appointed to insure correctness in the reports.
Inasmuch as the decisions of the courts in a very large measure announce the law of the land, which all men are supposed to know, and by which their rights and property are protected and their daily actions must be guided, the whole system is obstructed by a false statement of such decisions, and the people are thereby grievously wronged.
It is the right of a newspaper, as of any citizen, in public 493 or in private, to discuss the opinions of the court, to criticise their reasoning or to question by sober argument the soundness of their conclusions, but not to misstate these conclusions.
When a newspaper takes up the task of informing the public what the decisions of courts are, it holds itself out to be equipped with suitable instruments for that work. Its agents must be intelligent and judicious, as well as honest and impartial.
The task, though a very proper one for a newspaper, is self-assumed, and is undertaken at the peril of the publisher. The responsibility for accurate statement increases as the agency for the dissemination of the statement becomes more efficient.
A peculiarly lamentable feature of the affair is the present inability of the respondent to comprehend its offense: "it respectfully submits that an unintentional error, .... does not constitute an offense . ... such as to make it liable to punishment for contempt." It relies upon the purity of its intentions. Manifestly this is no excuse. Ignorance of the law excuses no one, not even a newspaper while using its columns for the purpose of instructing its readers in the law. The effect of such instruction, if erroneous, is more than ordinarily misleading, as the first and for most unprofessional persons the final information which the community receives of the doings of the courts is derived from the newspapers. The misstatement arose from recklessness or incompetence, and the respondent must not employ reckless or incompetent persons for such service. A blunder in this connection produces the same evil consequences as an intentional misrepresentation.
The point of law involved in the opinion referred to was of very wide application and importance. The fraternal orders of this country having benefit funds number many thousands of members, all of whom would learn with alarm that
the supreme court of one of the states had denied their right to regulate the disposition of these funds by their fundamental law. This court cannot suffer that such a misstatement should be published within its jurisdiction with impunity.
For these reasons we have thought it our duty to call the respondent to account, and now, after the respondent has been 494 heard, adjudge it to be guilty of contempt, of which it may purge itself by publishing this opinion, on or before the first day of January, 1908, on the editorial page of the “Providence Daily Journal,” where the original article appeared, and by paying the costs of this proceeding.
Contempt of Court by Libelous Newspaper Publications is discussed in the note to Percival v. State, 50 Am. St. Rep. 572. The publication of articles in a newspaper may constitute a contempt of court for which the editor and manager may be punished, although he may have no actual knowledge of the contents of the articles nor any aetual intent to interfere with justice or bring disrespect upon the court. Absence of wrongful intent may be considered in mitigation of the offense but not as an excuse therefor: State v. Howell, 80 Conn. 668, ante, p. 141, and see cases cited in the cross-reference note thereto.
BATES V. HACKING.
[28 R. I, 523, 68 Atl. 622.] WILLS—Revocation by Subsequent Writing.–The statutory provisions for the revocation of a testament by will properly executed, or by some writing declaring an intention to revoke executed like a will, are neither identical nor interchangeable. The latter is evidence of a present intention, and when executed becomes of itself a complete revocation; but the former takes effect only when the will of which it forms a part becomes effective, and that can never be in the lifetime of the testator. (p. 760.)
WILLS—Destruction of Revocatory Wills. Where a will, which contains a provision revoking prior wills, was afterward destroyed by the testator, a prior will may be admitted to probate. (p. 761.)
James L. Jenks, Gardner, Pirce & Thornley and William W. Moss, for the appellant.
John N. Butman and Bassett & Raymond, for the appellee.
523 DUBOIS, J. This is a probate appeal brought to this court upon appellee's exceptions to certain rulings of the superior court, including the following charge to the jury directing a verdict for the appellant, viz.: “Inasmuch as it appears by undisputed testimony that, after the execution of the will in issue, Peter Warren made and executed another
will which contained a clause expressly revoking all wills theretofore made, which last-mentioned will was subsequently destroyed, and as there is no evidence that it was the intention of the said Peter Warren to revive the will in issue, the jury are instructed to find that the will in issue is not the last will and testament of the said Peter Warren, and to return a verdict for the appellant."
It appears from the transcript of the testimony that Peter Warren, the testator, made four wills, to wit, one in 1893, another in 1898, a third, which is the will in issue, May 10, 1900, and the fourth about May 20, 1900; that the first and third wills are still in existence, but that the second and fourth wills have been destroyed by the testator; that the second will was burned by him on May 10, 1900, after the third will was drawn; that at the time of the execution of the fourth will the testator gave the third will to the appellee, named therein as executor and trustee, with instructions “to take 524 care of it"; and that subsequently the testator informed the appellee that he had destroyed the fourth will by burning the same.
The first will is not offered for probate, and needs no further consideration at the present time.
The question presented is whether the third will was revoked by the execution of the fourth will, which contained a clause expressly revoking all wills theretofore made; and the answer depends entirely upon General Laws, caption 203, section 17, which reads as follows: “No will or codicil or any part thereof shall be revoked otherwise than as provided in the preceding section, or by another will or codicil executed in manner hereinbefore required, or by some writing declaring an intention to revoke the same and executed in the manner in which a will is hereinbefore required to be executed, or by burning, tearing, or otherwise destroying the same by the testator, or by some person in his presence and by his direction, with the intention of revoking the same. Section 16 concerns revocation by marriage, and has no application to this case.
The statute relating to revocation of wills is of ancient origin, and was construed by this court in Reese v. Court of Probate (1870), 9 R. I. 434, wherein Brayton, C. J., speaking for the court, said: “The statute declares that all devises shall continue in force unless burned, etc., or unless the same be altered by some other will or codicil, or other writing of the devisor, signed in the presence of three or
more witnesses declaring such alteration. As another writing signed by the devisor, it has the same defect as where offered as a will. It has but two witnesses, while it requires three to give it validity.
“But the cases go further, and hold that if the writing declaring the revocation be part of a will, and executed as such, though the instrument be defectively executed, so that it cannot operate as a will, the clause of revocation cannot be set up as another writing revoking any former devise. That being executed for a will, the clause is like every other declaration therein of the testator's will and intent, is ambulatory, and the whole instrument stands or falls together: Laughton v. Atkins, 1 Pick, 535; Eccleston v. Speke, Carth. 79."
525 Thirty-seven years have elapsed since the rendition of the foregoing decision, during which time the statutes have undergone several revisions, but the provision relating to revocation of wills has not been substantially modified. This fact may fairly be taken as an indication of legislative satisfaction with the construction placed upon it as aforesaid. Acquiescence for more than a generation is sufficient approval.
The statutory provisions for revocation by will properly executed, or by some writing declaring an intention to revoke executed like a will, are neither identical nor interchangeable. They differ materially in that the former relates to a will while the latter does not. One looks toward the future while the other regards the present. The writing declaratory of an intention to revoke is evidence of a present intention, and when executed becomes of itself a complete revocation. But the revocation by will takes effect only when the will of which it forms a part becomes effective, and that can never be in the lifetime of the testator.
For these reasons we are constrained to hold that the superior court erred in directing the jury to return a verdict for the appellant. The other exceptions need not be considered
. in this view of the case.
The appellee's exception is therefore sustained, and the case is remitted to the superior court for further proceedings, in accordance with this opinion.
The Operation of a Revocatory Clause in a Will is, according to some authorities, immediate and absolute, and the fact that such will is destroyed,'or cannot be found after the death of the testator, does not revive the former one: In re Noon's Will, 115 Wis. 299, 95 Am. St. Rep. 944, and see authorities cited in the cross-reference note thereto.